NB Politicus

COO Patronage Job, End To Elections Of Clerk and Tax Collector Are On The Nov. 8 Ballot

Posted in City Charter, city politics and government, New Britain by nbpoliticus on July 20, 2022

Fuzzy Charter Question Will Keep Many Voters in the Dark

by John McNamara

New Britain voters will be deciding much more than who should be the Governor and making their picks for other elective offices on November 8th. City charter revisions will, if approved, make the biggest changes in a generation as to how Connecticut’s eighth largest city is governed.

On June 22nd the Common Council accepted the recommendations of the Charter Commission whose five members held hearings and meetings this year to amend the charter for the first time since a 2016 referendum was held. The Commission, chaired by former Alderwoman Sharon Beloin Saavedra, straightforwardly proposed four major changes for referenda that could be considered by voters on their merits and that would take effect next January.

On the composition of the Common Council the Commission called for ending the five at large seats on the 15-member council and electing three members per ward under the minority representation law. That resulted in the Council approving one of the two questions adopted: “Shall the Common Council be comprised of fifteen (15) members, consisting of three (3) members elected from each of the five (5) Common Council Districts, with the minority party requirements of the Connecticut General Statutes applying to each of the five (5) Common Council Districts separately?

City Charter Amendment Excerpt published in New Britain Herald July 19th

On other significant changes the Charter Commission specified three specific questions for the ballot:

2) Shall the positions of Revenue Collector and the Town and City Clerk be changed from elected to civil service, appointed positions? (effective 2025)

3) Shall an appointed Chief Operations Officer, who shall report directly to the Mayor, be responsible for the daily management of certain City functions?

4) Shall the remainder of the changes to the Charter as recommended by the Charter Revision Commission be approved, which changes include a provision requiring periodic Charter review every five years at a minimum?

The Mayor and her Council majority, however, abandoned the Commission’s language in favor of an imprecise, “housekeeping” ballot question that gives no hint on what changes are proposed: “Shall the remainder of the changes to the city charter, as recommended by the charter revision commission be approved?”

Transparency and directness have been thrown out by Mayor Stewart and her Council caucus in the wording of the second charter referendum question and voters will be deprived of a clear idea of the big changes they will be asked to approve when they get in the voting booth or vote absentee notwithstanding the opportunity to read the little noticed fine print. The situation is akin to the tactic used by the Stewart administration in the 2016 charter referendum when multiple changes were made to the charter in a “housekeeping” question that went far beyond language changes. In a separate question that year a four-year mayoral term was comfortably rejected by voters.

Hidden in the “remainder of the changes” question is making the tax collector and town clerk jobs appointive rather than elected through a civil service process. More controversial is the creation of a six-figure Chief Operating Officer (COO)– the equivalent of a city manager – to handle executive duties that by charter are now the responsibility of the Mayor with the Mayor having appointment (patronage) powers in filling the position. It’s debatable whether such a post belongs in the city charter when a Council resolution could accomplish the same thing. The move by the Stewart administration also comes shortly after the Mayor’s annual salary got a double digit percentage increase and a process was established to hike elected officials’ pay on a regular basis. The COO job amendment, like appointing Clerk and Tax Collector via Civil Service, needed a separate ballot question just as the Charter Commission stated in its final report.

Assurances, of course, have been made that the city will fully disclose the content of all the charter changes with explanatory literature for voters at the polls and in public notices. State law (Sec.9-369b) requires the Town and City Clerk to print and disseminate “concise explanatory texts or other printed material with respect to local proposals or questions approved for submission to the electors at a referendum.” Each explanatory text, says state law, shall specify the intent and purpose of each proposal or question.

The City is not off to a very “concise” start in fulfilling the public’s right to know. In the July 19th New Britain Herald the city, in conformance with the law, published the charter amendments and strike throughs (deletions) in a small-type, two-page spread. For those of a certain age or visual acuity a magnifying glass will be needed to identify amendments buried in the text. Town and City Clerk Mark Bernacki will presumably do better in preparing posters for the polling places.

Two City Charter questions will be on the ballot on November 8th to vote up or down. While changing the Common Council to 15 district representatives is clear in the first question. The Mayor and Republican caucus are deliberately keeping voters in the dark on the second question. This warrants a “No” from any voter wanting to vote on the merits of each major proposal.

The fictional “Bob” in the new commercial is the same “Bob” who ran for Guv in 2018

Posted in Governor, Money in Politics, Republicans, state budget, state government by nbpoliticus on February 2, 2022

by John McNamara

Bob Stefanowski’s story is the stuff of hardscrabble immigrants making it to America in the 20th century to raise their families and realize the American Dream.

That is the narrative in Republican Stefanowski’s re-branding to voters in his first television commercial for Connecticut’s GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2022. No doubt that Mr. Stefanowski’s parents worked hard, played by the rules and got a piece of that American Dream for their son to attain wealth gained in a career in financial services at GE Capital, UBS and a London-based investment and private equity company. Bob ’22 wants you to know he is just a son of hometown North Haven who can make Connecticut more affordable with the business acumen he acquired in those investment banker jobs.

Surrounding himself with working folks in the commercial (if you watch television only a little you’ll see the ad multiple times) Stefanowski pledges to cut sales taxes and keep cutting taxes after he forensically takes state spending apart to identify all the waste that he implies exists. State Comptroller Natalie Braswell can save the Bob campaign the trouble by pointing out the forensics on the state budget already exist. They are continually updated at the “Open Connecticut” website created by former Comptroller Kevin Lembo where every payroll, contract and purchase in state government can be found at the click of a mouse.

Once Stefanowski gets “under the hood” it follows that he will then be able give voters specifics on where the waste is and exactly what state government should be spending tax dollars on in his first biennial budget.

The race for Governor is shaping up as a re-run of Stefanowski versus Lamont

Don’t count on it. Even Chris Powell, the very conservative Journal Inquirer columnist with a disdain for anything liberal, points to the empty rhetoric of Bob ’22: “Stefanowski’s critique of government in Connecticut was fair enough – that the state has become less affordable for the middle class and less safe. But he did not offer a detailed platform. While he noted that Connecticut can’t cut taxes without cutting spending, he didn’t specify where this should be done.”

Stefanowski is not likely to offer that “detailed platform” of draconian cuts and lower taxes before November 8. He’ll continue to serve up slogans within a make-believe, trickle down economics policy that leaves middle income and working families behind every time.

In 2018 Stefanowski bought the Republican nomination, bypassed a convention of party regulars and won a plurality in a crowded primary field to take on Ned Lamont. He edged out candidates such as Mark Bouton, the multi-term Danbury Mayor, who many observers thought would have been a more formidable general election foe against Ned Lamont. Boughton is now Lamont’s Tax Commissioner in charge of doling out federal infrastructure money. With the departure of former legislative leader Themis Klarides for GOP Governor, Stefanowski’s strategy is likely to work again for the nomination.

At issue is whether the CT Republican Party, its identity frayed by the wrath and authoritarianism of 44, can serve up a wealthy businessman for a fourth time. Tom Foley lost to Dannel Malloy twice and Stefanowski lost a close race to the self-financed Lamont in 2018 as Lamont bucked a trend of candidates of the same party not succeeding the incumbent.

The path for a wealthy Republican or any Republican to take back the Governor’s office won’t be easy. The 2018 Election was a better opportunity at the end of Governor Malloy’s two terms. Democrats are hoping a Republican nominee who demonizes government and has no public service record will fail a fourth time.

Governor Lamont, touting his moderate’s socially liberal and fiscally responsible brand, enters the 2022 gubernatorial race with a record of managing the mother of all crises (the pandemic) competently, a growing surplus and new federal help to address infrastructure and transit needs that didn’t exist four years ago. He’ll use those incumbent tools to offer targeted tax cuts of his own that will likely blunt the empty bromides from Bob Stefanowski who despite the new branding and pledge to cut taxes (it’s the sales tax not the income tax this time) is the same Bob who ran in 2018.